What cars are hot in Victoria?

I just got back from a month abroad, and I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to code. I ask around the office, how has it been? Did anything break while I was away?

Not only did nothing break, my boss was so bored that he’s been bothering the office manager and taking extra days off. I should probably investigate and find out what his deal is, but first I have a burning question.

What cars sell quickly on the used car market in Victoria, and what do they sell for?

This info is available through UsedVictoria – kind of. They have an RSS feed. So you can enter some search terms and they’ll show you the last 25 items posted with those criteria. You can’t page through the results, so that doesn’t give me any historical data. Any info I gather will start from today. But I can scrape the feed and save it in my own database, and graph it later once I have a body of data. Ok, here we go.

What’s going on: we ask UsedVic’s server for all the car ads they have with the following criteria: private sales only, priced between $400 and $6000. This returns a few hundred results, but the RSS feed will only give us 25. Oh well. I save each item in my database – the title, description, search criteria, date it was posted, and price.

The price, mind you, is in no way accurate. When I buy a car on UsedVic, I haggle. People who buy from me usually try to haggle as well. So the actual selling price is likely a couple hundred lower than what’s listed, in most cases. However, it does give you a little information. The listed price is the starting point of negotiation, so people generally won’t go see a car unless the listed price is at least in the realm of reality and their budget. If someone has set the price of a vehicle unrealistically high, the car will sit on the market for a long time.

This happened in the case of a rather spectacular Suzuki DRZ400SM that was posted last winter. It had several fancy racing upgrades, combined with an expensive but utterly tasteless metallic pink paint job. If I could have had that bike for $2000, I would have done so in a second even it was covered in swastikas and cocks. Paint is cheap. But the guy wanted $6500 for it, and the ad stayed up for something like 3-4 months. (Ask me how I know. Yes, I was checking every week. I have a problem. Don’t worry about me, mow your own lawn.)

So how to deal with the fact that we only get 25 items returned? Easy – check back every 2 hours. Usually 2-6 items are posted per hour. So I add a check to see if each item is already in my database, and if it isn’t, add it. This code is kind of inefficient. If any of the real programming nerds get hold of it, I will be embarrassed. But it’s good enough for my purposes, for now, probably.

So I wrote a cronjob to run this every 2 hours and report back to me when it’s done. Okay, cool.

Now how do we track items that are sold? It’s tough to count something that isn’t there. Not too tough though. More code:

You can also search for an ad using the exact title, and you’ll generally get back only that one exact result. Since I have the titles saved, I can do that. In my database, I have a column labelled “sold”. When the item is entered, that column is set to false.

This script gets a list of all items in my database that have “sold” set as false, and searches for them. If an item is not found, “sold” gets set to true, and the current date is recorded as well.

Listings expire after thirty days, which should help keep this script from getting out of control as it hits the UsedVictoria servers over and over again. After a few weeks, I’ll have hundreds of unsold listings in my database, and once a day, the script will request every single one of them. I may end up blocked by UsedVic pretty soon if the numbers get too high. But no worries for now.

Finally, I want the data in a manageable, bite-sized format. You can see the results at rocketships.ca/srs/scraper.

The table lists all cars that were posted and sold within the last thirty days, the number of days each was on the market, and the price requested. It’s still not as fine grained as I would like, but I think this will give me at least a vague answer to my question – which cars are hot in Victoria?

My theory: Miatas. I await hard data.

Next step is to decide what to do with the data. I had an idea about buying cars from the mainland, where they’re a bit cheaper, and flipping them locally. I feel like I could make a small profit doing this. However, to make it worth my time, I need a profit of at least $300 – that’s what I pay myself for working on the weekends.

So let’s say I bought a 1990 Miata for $1800 on the mainland and sold it for $2300 here. Those numbers are realistic, based on my experience to date.

I have to go the mainland ($18 there, $74 back), get my pedestrian ass to the seller’s house somehow (unless they’re kind enough to meet me at the ferry), check the car to make sure it isn’t shit (Honestly, what do I know? Not much, man. I’m a writer, not a mechanic.), and then the really fun part – figuring out insurance.

If I transfer my own car insurance to the new car, I will have to pay GST on the car. 12% of 1800 is $216. Big chunk of my profit gone right there. I can maybe get a temp permit, which is only $30 or so, but then I really have to get home smartly on the next boat, I don’t get to joyride the car while I’m waiting for a seller, and I can’t allow buyers to take a test drive. The insurance costs some money, so does registration, so does the plate if I haven’t organized that properly, and you have to pay a fee if you insure for less than a full year or if you want to pay monthly. Costs maybe $1200 for the full year? depending on the car and whether my points have expired yet.

There are ways around these issues, namely, lyin’ and breakin’ the law. I’ve bought and sold something like 20 vehicles over the years, and I will not claim perfect observance of the rules. But any business plan that relies on illegal behaviour is a bad idea, and out of the question according to my principles.

So out of $500 profit, I might get to keep $300, legally. But that’s not the main issue. You can only get away with buying and selling a certain number of cars per year before the government starts to get suspicious. I think it might be around 6. After that you have to get a dealer’s license, which is ex$pen$$ive. I’m not really prepared to go down that road – messing around with cars is alright for a hobby, but used car salesmen are considered the scum of the earth by most humans, and for good reasons. So I would have to find a way to respect myself for doing it, first. My friend Dylan does it by specializing in high end racecars. My friend Ben doesn’t do used cars – he’s an honest to god legit new car salesman who provides warranties. But there are others who are pretty slimy.

With that problem unsolved, I have made the data and the code publicly available. Enjoy.

In Starbucks Next Week

This story is about kombucha. The first time I ever played bike polo was winter 2010… I think. I played 2 matches on my front suspension, department store mountain bike, then sat down in exhaustion. A man named Fish, who had a handlebar mustache, started talking to me. He was travelling south from Alaska with his friend, whose name I can’t recall, who looked like every lumberjack – thick, solid, beardy and plaid.

Around midnight, polo was breaking up and Fish’s friend asked if I would like to join them at their host’s house for kombucha and nut butter. Terrified, I said yes and followed them on their bicycles up what seemed to be the steepest hill I had ever encountered.

(Years later I learned that it was halfway up the hill Hillside is named for, and moved into a condo at the peak of it. Moved out 3 months later when I got tired of biking up it every damn day. I currently live at the base. But I digress.)

At the home of (again, I learned this much later) Luke Postle and most of his band (Slam Dunk, unGoogleable), a young blond person of indeterminate gender, with a bicycle chain tattooed on her/his face, offered me a large mason jar.

A soft, pink jellyfish-shaped fungus floated in the jar. “What’s this again?” I asked.

Kombucha Day 3

You may recall that I’m hard of hearing – when I encounter new words, it often takes three or four repetitions with increasing volume, and sometimes a spelling using either the Air Force alphabet or pen and paper.

We did get to Air Force alphabet stage on this one before I got it. Then I asked, and Fish provided, a detailed explanation of just what the hell kombucha is, while I made the sort of facial expressions that a back-country hick makes during their first real-life lesbian sighting.

The stuff seems to be of Japanese origin, and is made of fermented tea. It’s a little fizzy and tastes a little boozy though it doesn’t have alcohol in it, and it’s great for drinking at parties where you don’t want to accidentally forget that you’ve sworn off alcohol forever because of what happened last time. (No more merlot. Never again.)

It’s the cheapest thing in the world to make, and you can get good results without much effort. If you ever find yourself in an anarchist commune and wonder what all the glass jars filled with jellyfish fungus are, that’s probably it. Anarchists like kombucha.

OK, so that was my first in-person encounter with the stuff. My second one was tonight. Outside of Fairway Market in Quadra Village, I ran into my friend Lee and two women friends of his.

Lee is a dumpster diver and brought in a massive haul of eggs the other night. I already got my dozen and hardboiled them. One of his friends said, “Have you ever heard of tea eggs?”

She tells us, you hardboil the eggs, crack the shell a little, soak it in tea for a few days, and it tastes yummy. I want to try it, but with coffee.

“They’ll be in Starbucks next week” says Lee.

“Starbucks doesn’t have kombucha yet, though,” I pointed out.

I went inside for a beverage.

As I stood thinking hard about beverage choices, my eyes slowly focussed on the bottles right in front of me. Yeah, you guessed it. Not one, but three different brands of kombucha were there, surrounded by root beer and ginger ale. They had multiple flavours, including “classic” and “green”.

I goggled at the bottles, thinking about the blog post I am even now writing for you, and at least 5 hipsters grabbed some from in front of me while I did so.

I bought the kombucha. It’s pretty tasty. I am living in the future.

A Bike Polo Tournament

Vic Winter Mixer 2013

If you play bike polo, you have to have a tournament once in a while.

We were talking about it since Jawn Fawn put one on in spring, in Nanaimo. Around October Ryan started getting serious about doing it. I got put in charge the usual way – no one else wanted the job. But I’m mainly surprised at how little work I actually had to do, and how many problems solved themselves.

Anna got as a venue and insurance, and gave me a lot of tips.
Brett volunteered to help, so I put him in charge of food. That was probably the best decision I made, because he locked it down real good. Potato soup, huge loaves of bread, snacks, corporate sponsors.
Greg was captain of the boards without any intervention from me, and Ryan H. hired a truck to move the boards. The boards were beautiful.
Jawn kept score and ran the competition, an unexpectedly (to me) big job.
Ryan H. also helped by supplying a lot of money for tshirts and beer at the after party. And by being calm and chill when I was panicking.
Cordelia was incredibly encouraging, and opened her house up to visitors.

The boards, assembled the night before, by hands and feet that were like bricks of ice in -8 degree weather.
The boards, assembled the night before, by hands and feet that were like bricks of ice in -8 degree weather.

Some things that went really well: there were no fights or drama at any point during the planning or the actual tournament. Or if there was, I didn’t know about it.
Volunteers showed up to move the boards… it was a hella big job.

Greg handled his job and Brett handled his. I’m sure I did a lot of things wrong or insufficiently, but everyone was incredibly encouraging. People had fun! They kept telling me so. And I learned a ton, and met so many cool people.

Some things I’d do differently next time:

  • Have people pre-register/pre-pay to save on running around collecting cash from people.
  • Give people a discount on tshirts if they buy them at the same time as their registration.
  • Maybe don’t get quite so many tshirts.
  • Make sure all the little items like balls, whiteboard markers, timers, and so on, are accounted for.
  • Figure out the competition style and schedule beforehand. Figure out prized beforehand too.
  • Have a cashbox, and appoint someone to be in charge of it.
  • Have a megaphone.
  • Get more people to commit to volunteering – though it’s hard to do. I’m so grateful to the people who did help in the freezing cold, but boy hardy it was one full ton of wood. The more hands the better.
  • Do a better job with the social media stuff – an Instagram handle is a great way of getting all the photos into one place. Live tweets are awesome.
  • Followpodium.com was an amazing resource that I had no idea existed until days before the tournament began. It’s polo-specific tournament software that’s tied into the League of Bike Polo website, so everyone’s names are already in it.

"Call me baby", I don't care what you call yourselves, that's your name now.
“Call Me Baby”, I don’t care what you call yourselves, that’s your name now.

Most of all, I wish I’d played more pickup and talked to more people. I did talk to a lot of them, but the more the better. I’m always too shy. All the people I met from Vancouver and Seattle were super cool and nice, and I only managed to hang on to maybe 1 name out of 5. In some cases I mistook Victorians for Vancouverites and vice versa.

One of the cool people I met was Max from Seattle (hi Max!) great guy, and interestingly, has 2 cochlear implants (I have one) so he’s deaf the same way I am. That is, he can hear quite a lot… enough to fool people a lot of the time. But I could tell when he had only heard maybe 3 words out of 20, and attempted to piece together a whole conversation from that little information.

I do the same thing, often. When I’m feeling shy or tired, it’s often easier to just guess and fake my way through the conversation – but though my guesses are very good considering how little information I’m working with, they are often a little off. It tends to ruin the flow of conversation. Better to come clean and give people instructions on how to talk to me. But still… it’s exhausting.

Max gave me a chance to see what that’s like from the other person’s point of view. He also came second in the tournament, thus demonstrating that being deaf still isn’t an excuse for not being excellent.

The List.
The List.

The tournament was really great experience, and though it will take me quite some time to muster up enough mental energy for the next one, I want to do it again. But only if I’m backed up by a crew as amazing as the one we had this time.